There has been a steady rise in one-day festivals in Bristol over the past few years, catering to various niches that make up the city's multi-faceted music tastes. Up to this point, though, there didn't seem to be anything that accurately reflected the more leftfield tastes that much of the city's global reputation (at least within electronic music) is built on. As such, there was much excitement when Arc Festival was first announced at the start of 2013, seemingly coming out of nowhere and boasting a smartly balanced lineup of high-profile out-of-towners and the cream of the local crop.
The lineup was fit to burst, which made it surprising to reach the corner of Eastville Park on a bright April afternoon and find a relatively small arrangement of tents and domes scattered with groups of revellers. There had been some concerns about attendance, and certainly acts in the opening hours were playing to only small clusters of supporters, but by the time the festival hit its stride there was a healthy crowd in each space.
Overall the bill favoured more explorative artistic expression, with a heavy focus on visuals for each stage and a number of artists playing live sets. Bass Clef was one of the earliest, and one of the best examples of the latter. Leaning mostly on 4/4 material from his Reeling Skullways LP, he was a sight to behold, working across an entangled range of boxes, dials and microphones to weave an impulsive and staggeringly dynamic set that felt far more live than so many of his peers.
In the spacious Arc tent, Appleblim and Al Tourettes presented their ALSO live set. Jockeying adjacent laptops and controllers and allowing plenty of room for Al Tourettes to drum out samples on his trusty pads, the pair twisted out an ever-engaging melee of samples, synths and tricky rhythms, albeit with a smaller-than-average crowd due to the early slot and peoples' reluctance to leave the allure of the sun-baked outdoors.
Photo credit: NQDavies photography
October drew a healthy attendance for his hour of heated house and techno, playing his inimitable style of metallic grind and nervy tension with a few choice classics towards the end. Indigo followed with a po-faced throwdown of dark, percussive dubstep that slipped smoothly into industrial techno at just the right moments.
By the time Will Saul presented his Close show, the festival felt in full swing. With live drums throughout courtesy of Al Tourettes (on his second set of the day), Saul wove a more thoughtful kind of performance that touched upon shoegaze as much as it did electronica, spicing up the intensity in places and cooling it out in others. At times it risked drifting into coffee table territory, but Al Tourettes' tight drumming always brought it back.
Due to some travel woes, Tom Demac ended up playing later than planned, but he made up for lost time with a particularly sizzling concoction of solid house laced with crafty edits and snatches of his own productions. Roman Flügel made for a logical step on from this, bringing things down a bit before winding up in a similar state of lysergic flamboyance.
As the festival rushed toward its 11 PM cut-off time, the decision over which stage to opt for grew more difficult. Local heroes Livity Sound unsurprisingly garnered a healthy mass of support. Their set delivered everything you would hope for, from crushing half-step to jagged fragments of grime, all shot through with the techno mentality that characterises their records. Meanwhile, Skudge were bringing their own hypnotic and driving techno right up to the wire, surging forth with moody, minimal arrangements warmed up by the analogue nature of their sound. Clearly the organisers were in no mood to test the licensing hours, and bang on 11 PM the Swedish duo's set was cut and the lights came up.
From a ground level perspective, Arc was a roaring success on all fronts. Everyone was on top of their game, and the crowd was receptive and friendly, with not a notch of moodiness anywhere. Visually, some tents achieved the mission statement of the festival better than others, with the Polygon Stage particularly nailing the 3D mapping approach and the Radian dome proving to be nothing short of a spectacle, with its immersive 360 projections. While it will be interesting to see how the organisers fare in approaching a next edition after their concerns about tickets, on the day the event couldn't have run more smoothly.